A letter to America

After returning today from my second trip to the US, I feel that after seven weeks and more than ten thousand kilometres [kilometers] of driving across eighteen different states – that’s about six thousand miles – I could be regarded as something of an expert. Perhaps a few observations are in order:

1. Measurement. Seriously, get over your obsession with the past and move to the metric system. Using the metric system will also allow you to stop using fractions on road signs. Another benefit is that if you sell fuel (aka gas – really?) by the litre [liter] rather than the gallon, it will seem much cheaper.

2. Petrol. I know you think your gas prices are expensive, but I was able to drive 4,630km on $265 worth of petrol. Less than 6c a km is very good value for a mid-size car.

3. Food. Your processed food has way too much sugar and fat. You know this. So cut it out. However, food service by very dedicated and attentive staff is a great witness to the general politeness and good manners that most of your citizens embody. Congratulations.

4. Drivers. Your roads vary greatly in quality, but your drivers were much more aware of others around them, mostly well-behaved and more courteous than most Australian drivers. Congratulations.

5. Toilets. These are way too low to the ground, to the point that getting down to them for a tall person is problematic. Is America really full of people who are short and fat? Oh, wait…

6. Church. Once again I was deeply impressed by the devotion and spiritual openness of so many people that I met along my way. I find the religious conservatism odd and the insistence on calling priests “Fr Surname” strange, when my baptismal name is surely my deepest identity and we call both the holy father and bishop by their first name in the highest place of prayer – the Eucharistic prayer.

7. Beauty. You live in a beautiful and diverse country. Yet, you still insist on building horrible tourist structures so close to places of stunning beauty. Really?

8. Taxes. If the prices of petrol, movie tickets, entrance fees and more are able to be calculated with all taxes included, why can’t all other taxes be included in the prices displayed in every other store?

Until we meet again…


Ascension and Mothers Day

mothercloudDedicated to my mother.

The first reading, taken from the opening verse of the book that we usually call the ‘Acts of the Apostles’, is clearly presented as a sequel to the Gospel of Luke. As Bishop Tom Wright says, it could just as easily be called the Acts of King Jesus, part II. For although Jesus is only present for the first nine verses, it is experiencing his life and ministry, and above all else of the encounter by the disciples with the resurrected body of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit that dominates the whole book.

Both the ending of Luke’s gospel and the beginning of his Acts focus on the Ascension of Jesus. But to understand the significance of this feast day, we perhaps need to look beyond the standard artwork that usually focuses on the upward movement of Jesus and his disappearance into the clouds. For what is at stake is so much more than the mere departure of Jesus and his flight plans.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (11’45”)
Sunday of the Ascension.

New exodus worship

tree-riverOne of the challenges of anyone attempting to read through the Bible are the encounters with the chapters that contain bizarre laws or content that seems to offer no significant spiritual content. For example, if you start with the book of Genesis, the pace and scope of the narrative will carry you through the book fairly easily and through the first half of Exodus. But once you arrive on Mount Sinai and have made your way through the Decalogue, you strike laws that are massively irrelevant – unless you really do want to know how to sell your daughter into slavery or who is responsible if an animal falls into an open-pit that you have dug.

But the great pity of this is that the chapters that describe the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 25-31) are about much more than the furniture or vestments of the priests – they really present the reason that God wanted to rescue Israel in the first place – so that he could make his dwelling within them. Eventually – after a number of missteps, including the massive one when Aaron doubts that Moses will return from the mountain and invites the people to turn their gold into a false idol in the golden calf – the sanctuary is made and the dwelling of God does indeed fall upon the camp and the Lord is now present in the midst of his people (Exodus 50).

All of this background is essential if we are to understand the book of Revelation properly. Otherwise we miss so many of the images that so richly illustrate the points that the seer John receives and shares with us about the new Jerusalem.

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Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (9’15”)
Easter, Sunday 6C (Rev 21)